As discussed in my previous post on affordable gaming, I’m all for having a game collection that prizes quality over quantity. It saves you money, shelf space, and time for learning rules. The question is: How do you find those high-quality games with high replay value? There is the traditional way (reading a lot of reviews), but I’d like to add a few other things at which you can look, all of them based on a single resource: the Board Game Geek main page of the game in question.
First, there’s nothing wrong with reading reviews. I read reviews too before I buy a game. Reviews are just not the only source of information about your likelihood of enjoying a game, and relying on reviews alone has a few issues:
- Subjectivity. Every review (yes, every review) is subjective. There is no such thing as an objective review. Nothing bad about that, but a single review does not answer the question if you will enjoy a game, but only if the reviewer (and, possibly, her gaming group) enjoyed the game. Either you rely on numbers and read many reviews to look for universally acknowledged good features of a game, or you need to have one or two reviewers whose tastes are so close to your own that you’ll take their word for a game.
- Review Quality. The things about being subjectivity being said, I find a lot of reviews to be of limited quality. Many reviews spend most of their space giving a rules overview and then finishing with a short verdict if the reviewer liked the game. There are a lot fewer reviews that manage to get the feeling of playing the game across or even explain which parts of the games were good (or not so good) and why so you can form your own opinion if that specific strength would excite or that weakness bother you.
- Time. Reading a review is a time investment. Reading multiple reviews (as recommended above) is a bigger time investment. That you like to play board games does by no way mean that you also like to read board game reviews, so you may want to cut this short. Personally, I don’t mind reading a lot of reviews about a game I’m excited about and will eventually buy, but I do mind reading a lot of reviews about a game I’ll only feel lukewarm about and decide not to buy.
So, what other things can you do? The first thing that springs to mind is the Board Game Geek page of a game. There are lots of information there, but every game prominently displays a rating between 1 and 10 (in a hexagon next to the game box cover image) and one or multiple “ranks” (an overall rank and possible other ranks in categories such as strategy games, family games etc. Rating and rank are based on people’s expressed opinions on a game – like reviews, just that you trade the depth of a review for the breadth of having hundreds and thousands of opinions stacked up and formed an average out of them. The rank is not only based on the average rating people give, but also factors in the popularity of a game (mathematically speaking, a Bayesian average is employed to calculate rank). This is still subjective, but at least you know that most people would enjoy a game with an average rating of 8 over one with a rating of 5.5, and most people would probably also pick the #50 game in the overall ranking over #2000. Most people? Of course, I mean “most board game geek users”, which is a very specific set of people. The largest part of them are European and North American middle-aged men who spend a significantly above-average amount of time and money and board games. Their aggregated opinion doesn’t have to match yours.
Ratings and rank are not the only things on the BGG main page. Some other information can give you a quick overview if a game may be right for you. All games come with information on player count (including a community recommendation which number of players works best), game length and theme. Look at them for a few seconds and you can already weed out many games that do not fit your criteria. Your gaming group of three people meets on a weekday evening? A long two-player game like Twilight Struggle might not hit the table very often. Everybody in your group loves vampires? Maybe give Fury of Dracula a try. However, it is also a good idea to have some variety in the games you own – to give some variety, to prepare for unusual gaming circumstances, and because your current gaming situation in life might change.
In a similar vein, also have a look at the “Classification” box that gives information about the type (very broad: strategy game, war game etc.), category (a bit more detailed about the topic, like “Negotiation”, “World War II” etc.) and mechanisms. The latter is quite interesting (at least if you are familiar with the gaming jargon): You can see within seconds if a game you are interested in has mechanisms you like or feel like exploring – and if you know that worker placement games are just not your thing (or you have enough of those already and would rather branch out), you can easily strike the game off your list.
Lastly, the number that merits your special attention because it is such an underused one is that of “game weight”. Game weight is the complexity of a game, going from 1 (light) to 5 (heavy) on BGG. I recommend you find out which weight you enjoy most. Luckily, somebody has compiled a handy list that gives a few popular examples for every weight (in decimal increments). I urge you to have a look and see which games of that list you’ve played and what you thought of them. As with the other ideas, it still pays off to have some variety in matters of game weight, because even if you love complex fare, sometimes all you want is a light lil’ filler game or vice versa.
How do you choose board games? What are some favorites of yours, and how did you come across them – careful selection or sheer luck? Let me know in the comments!
1. Simply speaking, a Bayesian average throws in a few random numbers which don’t affect a game with many ratings as much as one with fewer ratings. That prevents a game which has only 20 ratings but all of them are 9’s and 10’s from skyrocketing to the top of the list, avoiding manipulation and keeping a bit more stability in the list.